Back to the Big Mango

The Big Mango is Bangkok, by the way. And we’re back.

This is actually the fifth time we’ve passed through the city in our travels. But on our previous visits, we didn’t want to stop around because of the Shut Down Bangkok protests, then there was a curfew after the army took over, but the situation has settled down now so we’ve rented an apartment for nine days and have been alternating at sightseeing and using the luxury of an apartment to pretend that we live here.

Janet and I both love this city and we didn’t want to go home without having spent a little time here, and shown our kids around, so we’re here again, right at the end of our time in SE Asia. Of all the cities we’ve visited, it’s the wildest and most exciting. Everything has an edge here. Sometimes it feels like you’ve been transported into the future, at others like you’re in an incomprehensible otherworld, but always like you’re at the centre of something dynamic and barely-controlled. Not dangerous, mind; just thrilling.

We’ve also been reveling in city life. We’ve spent days in big malls, awestruck at the abundance of stuff. After Cambodia it just seems so decadent and astonishing to see shop after shop brimming with more things than anyone could ever buy. And things we need: new Crocs for our girls and a new wardrobe for Janet from Uniqlo, her new favourite shop.

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We’ve done the tourist thing and visited temples, including the massive reclining Buddha at Wat Pho which, despite being ram-packed with SLR-wielding farangs, is still a must-see and the who-needs-adventure-playgrounds Wat Arun over the river. We’ve travelled around by sky train, taxi, tuk-tuk, motorbike taxi (never again!) and, best of all, on foot. And we’ve visited what turned out to be two of our girls’ favourite places on the trip: Kidzania (where kids get to try out different adult jobs earning and spending money) and Dream World (a theme park where Evie finally got to experience a ride that turns you upside down).

Just having an apartment is exciting enough. We have three separate room (plus two bathrooms)! A year ago that wouldn’t have been anything special but after so long sharing one room with travel beds filling the space on the floor between whatever beds the hotel provides, it feels enormous. We have a sofa. We even have a dining room table. There’s a kitchenette. A fridge. A washing machine!

The girls can run around and play without having to be shushed and ordered down off the walls. We don’t have to usher the whole family outside by 10am in order to stop ourselves eating our own children. It’s even possible for everyone in the family to be in a separate room by themselves (if there are two of us in the toilets)!

Who’d have thought we’d revel so much in home comforts? Things like sitting around a dining room table eating a meal in private rather than a restaurant have become real pleasures. Lying on the sofa watching my girls singing tunes from Frozen, or just playing on my ukulele, feels like luxury. I’d never considered how great it is to be able to put our girls to bed then have a different room to sit up and chat in. But it is! Janet even whooped when she saw the apartment has the washing machine. No more waiting for dirty clothes to build up enough for a trip to the laundry to be worthwhile. Clean clothes every day!

It feels like coming home, being in Bangkok. The city is familiar, we know the food – and the abundance of street food means we can find all our favourites, we can speak enough Thai to get along, we have space and time and, for these nine days, our mounting homesickness seems to be on hold. We’ve found a home from home.

Only One Dollar

Cambodian Street Seller

“Please miss, only one dollar!”

“For you, just one dollar, one dollar miss, only one dollar!”

“Two for one dollar! OK, OK miss, three for one dollar!”

This is the soundtrack to Cambodia, the slightly mournful cry of the street vendors, often just kids, who are trying to scratch a living out of the tourist trade around all the major sites in the country.

As well as feeling as though I’ve entered the word’s biggest Poundland (OK, Dollarland), it also feels very sad to see such abject poverty. The general consensus is that buying from street kids worsens the problem and discourages school attendance, so we’ve had to master the art of patiently walking past with a constant dialogue of, “No, thank you; no, thank you.” We’ve donated to a number of NGO’s and eaten in good cause restaurants; but it feels like a drop in the ocean.

This also got me wondering, why the US dollar?

Cambodia operates a dual-currency system. Even in the major supermarket chains, prices are quoted in US dollars, but you can pay with either USD or the local currency, riel. It’s highly confusing, as you often pay with USD and get the change in riel, necessitating some agile mental arithmetic to work out if your change is right.

It was actually while researching some background on the Khmer Rouge campaign that I found out why this is. We watched the Killing Fields whilst in Cambodia, a chilling but fascinating account of the human tragedy that took place in the 1970’s. The genocide is well documented and, quite rightly, it’s the human side that got most of the media attention.

What I didn’t realise was that the KR also carried out what must surely be the most drastic economic experiment ever to take place in modern history. They destroyed the currency. I don’t mean they wrecked the economy so that the currency was devalued; I mean the literally burned all the currency, blew up the banks and burned the cash, and destroyed all the account records, so that in the aftermath, everyone was effectively starting from zero again.

Just try to imagine that in your home country.

No wonder the US dollar has taken a hold here as the currency of choice; there was no currency in place for in the late ‘70’s. Plus, the UN injected thousands of USD into the economy when it ran the country for few years in the early ‘90’s.

Since then I’ve been reading up on how there’s a split of opinion of whether the country should go for complete ‘dollarisation’, or work on making the riel a world currency. Many campaigners hoped the launch of the Cambodian stock exchange would decide one way or another, but that too sits on the fence, with prices quoted in riel but accounts that can be settled in Dollars.

I find it fascinating. It takes me back to my A-level Economics days and it will be a story I follow with interest as Cambodia continues to develop.

In the meantime, I’ll distribute my dollars as fairly as I can in this beautiful country; and remember to be grateful for the dollars I have in my pocket. By accident of where I was born. Life could have been very, very different.

Happy Birthday Mummy

By Tettie

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Today is Mummy’s Birthday!                                              

So happy birthday Mummy!

A really happy birthday to you!

You are a wonderful Mummy!

I can’t believe I am so lucky!                                

You are always so kind to me!

Travelling has been so much funner with you!

Homeschool in Vietnam

What do people in Vietnam eat?  Pho!

What do people in Vietnam eat? Pho!

Here’s the Q&A I set the girls (aged 8, year 4) on our last day in Veitnam.

How do you think they did?

Evie Hadley

1. What’s the original name of HCMC?

Saigon

2. Name 3 buildings in HCMC.

Pro M [meaning the Bitexco Financial Tower]

Majestic Hotel

Yellow church

Elegant Inn

Pho 24

Hotel Sunland

MB Land

Hotel Hoa Hong

[I should point out that the last 3 could be seen from the window]

3. What do people in Vietnam eat?

Pho, cao lau & spring rolls. Spring rolls are (in Vietnam) veg, herbs and prawns wrapped up in rice paper.

4. What’s the night train like in Vietnam?

The night train is smooth and gentle although it tends to stop a lot. There are many 6 beded compartments with very little floor space with a small table at one end and the door of the compartment at the other, the room was cosy and warm with a reading light at the head of each bed and a step at the foot to help climb onto the one on top. The mattresses, though clean, were hard yet I dozed off in the described atmosphere.

5. What happened in the Vietnam war? Tell me everything you can remember!

The Vietnam war was started by Vietnam being colonized for 1,070 years and then finally being free. When this freedom came no one could remember if Vietnam had been communist or capitalist so the country was split in two: South capitalist, North communist. A few years later South Vietnam started a great war against the North who fought back mightily. The Americans joined the South because they were capitalist and wanted more countries to turn capitalist so that they could trade with them and make money out of them.

China and Russia joined the North because they were also communist. At the end of the 15 year (about) war, a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gates of Independence Palace and the war was won.

The capital of the South’s name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City by a man called Ho Chi Minh (leader of the North Vietnamese army).

6. Describe crossing the road in HCMC.

When we cross the road in Vietnam I feel scared because there are so many motorbikes. Vietnamese traffic lights: red = go, yellow = go, green = go.

7. Give me 1 example of bias from a museum in Vietnam.

When the Saigon Museum called South Vietnam’s army the puppet troops, because they were being controlled by the American army. This is bias because that isn’t their real name and the ‘pretend name’ mocks them.

8. What’s the worst thing about Vietnam?

The worst thing about Vietnam is the heat which positively frazzles you to a frisp.

9. What’s your favorite thing about Vietnam?

My favorite thing about Vietnam is the kitchen we had in Hoi An where we made a yummy spag bol.

10. Recommend a restaurant you’ve been to in Vietnam in the style of a trip advisor review.

The Hungry Pig

At this restaurant we all got make your own sandwiches which was amazing, it was honestly the best sandwich ever. It was a pleasant surprise. 4.5 stars!

 

Scarlett Hadley

1. What’s the original name of HCMC?

Saigon

2. Name 3 buildings in HCMC.

Pro M [meaning the Bitexco Financial Tower]

Independence Palace

Ava 2 Hotel

3. What do people in Vietnam eat?

Pho bo, pho ga, spring rolls. Spring rolls are vegi and fruit wrapped in rice paper.

4. What’s the night train like in Vietnam?

The night train is rickety vehicle with hard, lumpy beds cramped into a tiny carriage cramped into a tiny corridor resulting in triple bunks! Also, it has creaking joints and oil-needing limbs. I would take the plane!

5. What happened in the Vietnam war? Tell me everything you can remember!

The Vietnam war was started by a disagreement of the communist North of Vietnam and the capitalist South. This disagreement caused the South to send out troops of soldiers and tanks up up up to the North. Of course the North fought back. America, being capitalist, joined the South and yet they could not win! This was because the soldiers of the North just kept disappearing into the jungle. The Americans therefore were forced to drop spray to kill the trees but caused many babys to be born with body problems. The war was won by the North as they broke the gates of the Independence Palace. This was done with a tank. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City by Ho Chi Minh, the head of the North Vietnam’s army.

6. Describe crossing the road in HCMC.

Crossing the road in HCMC is like being in the middle of masses of motorbikes and a chaos of cars! I don’t like crossing the road.

7. Give me 1 example of bias from a museum in Vietnam.

The War Remnants Museum said that when the North won the war, the freedom of the South had come. This is biased because the wealthy people didn’t feel welcome or happy any more.

8. What’s the worst thing about Vietnam?

The worst thing about Vietnam is the road crossing because of the way the drivers of the motorbikes don’t seem to want to live very much! They make me feel in danger.

9. What’s your favorite thing about Vietnam?

The best thing about Vietnam is that there are millions of playgrounds. I like them because they are fun.

10. Recommend a restaurant you’ve been to in Vietnam in the style of a trip advisor review.

The Hungry Pig

The Hungry Pig is a lonely place but it does the best plain bagel, maple bacon, lettuce, bell peppers,olives, rocket, Philadelphia and cranberry sandwich I;ve ever had. 4.5 stars.

 

Jemima Hadley

1. What’s the original name of HCMC?

Saigon

2. Name 3 buildings in HCMC.

Pro M [meaning the Bitexco Financial Tower]

Clock tower [this is in Hong Kong, but we did go to HK for 2 days from Vietnam]

Parksons

Museum

Hotel Sun

AIA 7

AVA 3 Hotel

AVA 2 Hotel

Elegant Inn

[Most of these could be seen from the window…ah well]

3. What do people in Vietnam eat?

Pho – beef noodle soup with herbs and beef.

4. What’s the night train like in Vietnam?

The night train is nice. Though with hard beds, the lights are comfortable and are not too bright but not too dim. The food isn’t that great but OK. All in all the night train is recommended by me.

5. What happened in the Vietnam war? Tell me everything you can remember!

The Vietnam war started when the country got freedom. They divided Vietnam in half, the North was communist and the South was capitalist. One of them wanted the whole of Vietnam to be their way of ruling so they had a war. America helped South but China and Russia were helping North. The Americans didn’t know how to fight in the jungle so they just dropped bombs instead. North all knew how to fight in the jungle and when the Americans came they just slid out of sight. The Americans dropped more bombs on Laos than all of the rest of the whole Vietnam war altogether. After a lot of fighting the Americans said that they weren’t going to help anymore and without them the South Vietnam couldn’t win and so the North Vietnam’s tank came through the gate of the Independence Palace in victory and the South lost and the famous picture was taken, and so the war was ended. The North had victory.

6. Describe crossing the road in HCMC.

Very hard. Motorbikes streaming everywhere, and the traffic lights don’t help. When you do see a car it’s hardly ever a taxi. Traffic lights: red means go, amber means go, green means go.

7. Give me 1 example of bias from a museum in Vietnam.

A picture of a tank at Independence Palace with everyone waving flags and holding flowers. It was bias because not everyone was happy in real life.

8. What’s the worst thing about Vietnam?

The worst thing about Vietnam is the rain. It always rains at the right time to go to a playground. This makes it so that it is very hard to go to a playground.

9. What’s your favorite thing about Vietnam?

I really like Hoi An at Botanic Gardens because it was just so nice with our little kitchen and the tiny dog and the swimming pool. It was simply amazing.

10. Recommend a restaurant you’ve been to in Vietnam in the style of a trip advisor review.

I recommend the Hungry Pig because, though it’s a little expensive, it’s create your own sandwich was incredible. It’s the best bacon buttie I have ever had. I give it a 5 star review on trip advisor. I am from England.

A Video Message from the Cambodian Rainforest

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, our girls have been able to keep in touch with friends and family back home through email as we travelled. Recently, a friend of theirs (Hi, Megan!) mentioned that they had been learning about rainforests. Well, today we found ourselves in a rainforest in Cambodia, trekking into the jungle to see Kbal Spen, the River of a Thousand Lingas (a thousand year old set of Hindu carvings covering the banks and bed of a jungle stream, lost to the outside world until 30 years ago). We paused on our trek for the girls to make a short video to say hello to everyone back home and share a little of what it’s like to be in the rainforest itself.

I’ll leave it to you to Google what lingas are if you don’t know. But if you do know, needless to say they were the source of a lot of sniggers and giggles rather than the reverent awe religious sites are supposed to invoke. There were quite a lot of yonis, too.